From Doing to Leading: How to Get Comfortable Getting Out of Your Team's Way
March 1, 2016 | Business and Careers
Because they are conduits between employees and senior executives, midlevel managers often straddle the line between getting their hands dirty in project work (as doers) and establishing a vision or implementing strategy (as leaders). And if you’ve been a midlevel manager, you know how easy it can be to get bogged down in the “doing.”
Why? Much of it is self-imposed. Managers who’ve risen through the ranks know how to do the work of the people they lead, and some think they can do it better and faster than the members of their team. Other managers may not have the patience to let the team figure out how to solve a problem on its own. Or they want to stay involved to make sure the team looks good and feels fully supported.
Regardless of the reason, if you’re always hands-on as a midlevel manager, you’re doing yourself and your team a disservice—because once you let go and get out of the way, wonderful things can happen. Your team members will have the space to be more engaged and creative. They may surprise you with innovative approaches to problem solving. And as they’re taking care of the details, you will find yourself with the time you need to plan for the future and empower your team to achieve even greater results.
Of course, giving up control means assuming some level of risk, but that’s a necessary part of transitioning from “doing” to “leading.” The key to success is to minimize the risk, and you can start by taking these four steps:
1. Give your team a heads-up. It's important for leaders who move from "doing" to "leading" to tell their teams they are changing their approach, and explain why the change is important for the team. When leaders shift gears without explanation it can cause anxiety among members of the team, even if the change is a good one.
2. Be clear about the expectations for your team, the "why” of the work and what’s at stake. When you assign to a team a project or a challenge to find a solution to a problem, you have to do more than communicate the logistics of what needs to be delivered and when. You also want to provide enough of the context so that your team can approach the job with the right perspective.
- Why is the project meaningful to the team, the company and your customers?
- Who is the audience for the work? What are their expectations and do those expectations match the team’s approach?
- What does success look like?
- Are team members free to take risks? If so, in what ways?
- Is the deadline flexible? If not, what happens if the deadline is missed?
3. Open the door to questions. If you’re asking team members to step outside their comfort zone, acknowledge it up front. Let them know you realize the job may be a stretch and you won’t be surprised if they struggle a bit. You have to create an environment where people aren’t embarrassed to ask questions or reach out to you for guidance to stay on track. You’ll make it more fun for them to learn and grow, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor, too. If people are afraid to ask for help until there’s a crisis, you may feel you have no choice but to jump back into the weeds.
4. Don’t choose to re-engage lightly. If you do feel compelled to assume the role of “doer” to help your team get the job done, do so only as a last resort because there’s more at stake than the project at hand. Once you step in, even the most motivated person on your team may say, “Well, I’m not going to bother taking the next project all the way because my manager’s going to re-do it anyway. So I might as well do just the minimum, and she’ll fix it for me.” Do you really want to set that precedent?
In the short term, it’ll take time and patience (and you may need to endure a little pain) to commit to taking these steps. But the long-term gain will be worth it. You'll have a team that is engaged and delivers great results. And you'll have the time to lead them.